Madden NFL 11 Full Impressions

Posted August 8th, 2010 at 4:45 pm

For Madden 11 EA Sports decided to take the approach of making the game ultra-accessible and in doing so may have alienated some of the dedicated gamers who buy the game on a year-to-year basis. Madden 11 certainly remains fun though and has its bright spots but at the same time houses some nagging flaws and omissions. Continue on for my detailed impressions of Madden 11 having taken a ton of notes through my play time with the game. There are also additional screenshots and videos to be had. All impressions are based on playing with All-Pro difficulty. As always feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments!

The CPU AI seems to have been much improved. Even last year there were games that got out of hand due to the CPU QB throwing bad picks. That doesn’t seem to be the case now. They’ll throw occasional INTs but I haven’t played a single game where I felt like the CPU was giving the game away. They may even be throwing the ball away at times. That or there are just some really bad looking passes that float out of play over an intended receivers head. The CPU run game is also competent and has to be respected.

General QB accuracy seems to be more varied than ever. It’s nice seeing passes hit the turf or head out of bounds instead of always being on target. There are still a lot of dropped potential INTs but at least there are other types of incompletions now. The balance feels pretty good to me though QBs like Tim Tebow don’t seem to be wildly inaccurate.

While there are still issues with the commentary I’m surprised by how well it turned out compared to what I played at E3 and what was delivered in the demo. Even if voice levels don’t match up all the time, or player names aren’t said in certain situations, just hearing Gus Johnson and his enthusiasm alone ratchets up the excitement and emotion while playing the game. Overall better than I had anticipated considering all that has to go into rebuilding an audio library.

GameFlow. Yes I’m putting GameFlow in the positives. It may not be for everyone but I’ve enjoyed the quicker pace and being able to focus on playing instead of sorting through the playbook. I have felt the need to audible out of plays occasionally but overall the play calls have been reasonably good. What I did though was turn off the coordinator audio and coordinator subtitles. Cleans up the screen and brings back the crowd noise.

I created a GamePlan with no play-action (explanation in the negatives). I suspect that while GameFlow is intended to make the game more accessible GamePlan will be utilized primarily by the more experienced Madden players. Most likely the majority of those who use GameFlow will just use it as implemented without creating a GamePlan. The process is just a bit tedious. As I was creating my GamePlan it just struck me that I have a better idea of what plays I like in-game when in a rhythm and judging based on what the opposition has been successful with rather than sitting on that screen and sorting through all the plays. I really like however being able to tailor the calls to all the different situations.

The advancement with locomotion definitely represents an improvement though maybe less pronounced than was seen in NCAA Football 11. I love having the ability to cut back across the field as it provides that “anything can happen” feeling which is so important to have. The dual-stick control enters into that too with much more control over a player and in the open field that is exciting to have at your disposal. The more I play the less I use the right stick for ball carrier moves.

Having the unique fight songs and chants implemented is just flat out awesome. Now, I don’t have any emotional attachment to these, but playing as the Packers I kept wanting to get first downs just to hear “Go Pack Go”. Hopefully more touches like that to differentiate settings and rituals will be put in going forward (12th Man flag at Qwest please) though I still really feel that varied crowd noise levels and home field advantage are necessary along with that. Love the “Hoooosh” from the crowd at home after a Houshmandzadeh reception and I believe I caught a “Suuuhh” after a Ndamukong Suh sack in Detroit.

The pass rush, on both the user and CPU side, can be quite significant. In fact it seems like the CPU is throwing with a defensive player in their face most of the time so that may be overkill with them needing to get the ball out a bit quicker. However there have been a decent amount of sacks and plenty of pressure to deal with and I think that makes for a solid improvement.

The team styles seem to be better differentiated probably due to GameFlow. Running teams tend to predominantly run, the Dolphins run a little more Wildcat than other teams might, the Broncos bring in Tim Tebow in his shotgun package, and so on. It doesn’t necessarily mean those teams execute as well as they do in real life though. The CPU Dolphins didn’t have much success running Wildcat against me. There also seems to be a lack of urgency from the CPU when trailing until the two minute warning hits.

Weather seems to have an effect on the games more so than in the past. Players slipping when making cuts and an increased numbers of fumbles stand out. Another thing I’ve noticed, which may or may not be by design, is that false starts by the CPU seem to happen more when they are playing on the road. If that is programmed in I like that a lot as it would represent at least a small sort of home field advantage.

The graphics are terrific though the game lacks the progressive lighting found in NCAA. I give Madden a bit of a pass on that because it has to deal with replicating a lot more when it comes to individual players so it is somewhat understandable, just hope they get that in next year. I especially like playing games at night and in the snow.

I like the new style of kicking. Yeah it is simpler and makes it really easy but I was never a big fan of the right stick method. This seems to separate kickers better based on skill level also. However just because the meter goes slower doesn’t necessarily make it easier to use them. I’ve found going from one game to the next that sometimes the meter going faster is easier to time. Another note: the Xbox 360 pop-up bubble (friends, messages) appears right on top of the meter which could be a distraction.

Digging the presentation when penalties are called (replays show the player committing them), after some questionable plays the LT symbol comes up so you can signal the coach to throw the red flag and challenge it without having to pause, and sideline catches are really a relief to finally have working properly.

I’m not sure if there are blown coverages or what but there seems to be a few plays where I find guys wide open downfield. Not often but once or twice a game of course being dependent on having the time in the pocket for them to develop. This is something that I haven’t noticed as much of in the past. If they are actual blown coverages (and not just poor AI in action) then it is a very welcome addition.

The soundtrack is great, and when I initially saw the list of tracks it didn’t thrill me. But the songs are those associated with the NFL and it adds quite a bit to have them playing in the stadiums.

Play-Action. This really kills me because I’d like PA to be a big part of my offense. However in Madden 11 calling PA is basically just asking for a sack. At best there is enough time to hit a button and get an errant pass away but usually it just results in a sack.

Kick Returns. They are non-existent. Out of all the kick returns I’ve had I think I’ve gotten beyond the 22 just twice. Usually I feel like it is an accomplishment to get to the 20. The blocking is just horrid as a wave of guys come untouched to tackle the returner. Punt returns have questionable blocking at the onset but I’ve gotten a number of great punt returns and it gets exciting in the open field. Usually cause of the first blocks being whiffed you have to break a tackle right after the catch and then the opportunity to make a big play emerges.

As mentioned yesterday there seems to be one single game intro that gets played in most every match-up. There are supposed to be unique ones (over 900 recorded) depending on the QBs and storylines. So this would appear to be a bug and a very unfortunate one at that. I even went into franchise mode and the Vikings-Saints opener was that generic QB talk with no mention specifically of Brett Favre, Drew Brees, or last year’s NFC Championship. I have since found a couple intros including the Bears vs Packers (Play Now) with discussion about the NFC North becoming a more passing division and Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers being future Hall of Famers. Jets-Pats, Chargers-Chiefs, Broncos-Bears, Browns-Steelers, Giants-Colts and Jets-Colts are the others that I’ve come across.

Gus Johnson also mentions at the start of every game that there is an intriguing storyline that they’ll be following up on throughout the game. Nothing ever comes up though. The Redskins-Eagles game would have been an obvious one to discuss but it wasn’t touched. Not sure if that is a bug or if the storyline aspect just didn’t make the cut.

I had grown frustrated with the running game early on but since figured out that there is just a big difference between good offensive lines and mediocre or poor ones. The issue I have with the run game is there are too many attempts that end in negative yardage. The average in the NFL of rushes that lose yards is under 10% and I’d gather 20% or more of my runs have finished up that way. This usually isn’t because of a mistake on my part but instead some really questionable blocking resulting in the back having nowhere to go. Obviously the great o-lines avoid this more than the poorer ones. All that being said when not getting hit in the backfield the run game is very fun especially when in the open field.

Below is just a single example but it is representative of what I have seen at times. Lineman just completely kicking blocks or letting them go too early or defensive players coming in untouched leaving you helpless in the situation. Certainly it happens in the NFL too but not quite at the rate I’ve seen it in-game.

CPU kickers are terrible in bad weather games. Even the really good kickers miss mid-range FGs that they would usually make while the user doesn’t seem to face as much trouble. Kick success should drop in weather games but they are missing mid-range FGs (25-40 yards) like crazy. CPU Robbie Gould even missed an extra point in a snow game.

Broken tackles. Like in the demo there are a lot of them in one-on-one situations. The CPU may break a string of tackles and go the distance or just breaking a single one can sometimes mean a TD. One example: CPU threw a screen pass to Steve Smith, got to the outside, broke a tackle, and I couldn’t catch him. Not to say that’s out of the realm of possibilities just something that has stood out. Players that aren’t known for being tough to take down seem to break them at a high rate making it especially notable.

Pro-Tak just doesn’t seem as prevalent this year. There are lots of situations where players just bounce off ball-carriers. Still some gang tackling but there seems to be a lot of broken tackles because of one-on-one attempts and the inability of other players to contribute.

Not too bothered by the advertising integration (Old Spice, Doritos, Verizon, Gatorade) but I’m sure some will be. Gus Johnson is quite enthusiastic in his reading of those lines in particular. Hopefully this means we won’t see the pop-ups or some other form of ads to invade screen space but I’m not counting on it.

Saving and uploading highlight videos is still more of pain than it should be. Once you start to watch a replay from a particular view you can’t cancel out of it and must wait until it has played all the way through. There is also no broadcast cam option like in NCAA. Still no screenshot capture feature like in NCAA either.

There are a lot of injuries. This barely slips into the negative column because many are significant and happen early in games. I think the frequency is about right, players get dinged up in every game and have to miss time. However it is hard to ignore when starters go out early and for the entirety of the game. Still trying to judge this but my personal opinion right now is that the frequency of injuries is fine but maybe the severity needs to be adjusted. It would also help if minor injuries that take players out for a few plays here and there were noted by the commentators.

The Strategy Pad has been covered enough already so don’t have to go into it again. Some people will come to like it or grow accustomed to it while others will switch back to the old style once patched in. Not going to dwell on it.

Supersim still seems to produce high scoring games with big statistical numbers. Very little time seems to run off between plays. What I’ve noticed most is big rushing games (oftentimes RBs going over 200 yards) and usually a kick or punt return for TD in there as well.

Will have its own article in the coming days.

The gameplay is the best it has ever been though being plagued by a few elements of frustration. The feature set is not that intriguing but I’ve still found value out of GameFlow and GamePlan. The presentation is decent, with the in-stadium experience taking a big leap forward along with vibrant commentary, but there is much more that can be done. Basically what Madden 11 does in its overall improvement is make it all the more clear what the game COULD be.

Whether Madden 11 is ultimately satisfying may depend on how one approaches the game and whether the missing or frustrating elements overshadow the advancements. This feels as if it is a “reset” year having now positioned the game as more accessible hopefully that will lead to more rewarding gameplay enhancements and features going forward.